Category Archives: Michinaga

Rebuff Unwanted Advances Delicately

As we’ve previously seen, Heian-era aristocrats used poetry to communicate in most areas of life.  One major advantage of poetic communication is that one could be indirect and discreet while still conveying a strong message.  Murasaki Shikibu, author of “The Tale of Genji”, was a lady-in-waiting to Emperor Ichijo’s young consort, Akiko, daughter of Michinaga Fujiwara.

Michinaga had initially selected Murasaki for his young daughter’s entourage. She was known for her cleverness, as the court of Heian Kyo found “Genji” to be fascinating, and she appears to have been a sort of tutor for Akiko as well. Michinaga was interested in having such a refined, imaginative woman influence his young daughter, who would hopefully be the mother of a future emperor.

He was interested in other aspects of Murasaki as well. Known as a lecherous man, Michinaga certainly attempted to enter Murasaki’s room on at least one occasion. Murasaki heard him knocking on the door outside of her room, and lay quietly, ignoring him. The next day, as was custom, Michinaga sent a poem:

How sad for him who stands the whole night long

A flightless Kuina bird.

Knocking on your cedar door

Tap-tap-tap like the cry of the Kuina bird

As was also the custom, Murasaki sent a poem in reply that used the same poetic allusions as the initial poem:

Sadder for her who had answered the Kuina’s tap,

For it was no innocent bird who stood there knocking on the door.

Could one rebuff unwanted advances in such a refined manner today?


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Filed under Michinaga, Murasaki Shikibu, poetry, romance

Demand Poems from All Your Friends

In one of the many anecdotes that characterizes Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, Sei, a lady in waiting to the Empress Sadako, (who is the wife of Emperor Ichijo and a niece of Michinaga) goes with the other ladies in waiting to see a particular type of bird by a pond. They pile into a carriage and risk attack from robbers outside of the city. Heian Kyo, (current day Kyoto) or the city of peace and tranquility, was a walled city that only the aristocracy or gentry and royal court were allowed to enter and live in. As a result, leaving the city could result in danger from bandits on isolated roads. Nevertheless, the ladies in waiting to Empress Sadako had to see that bird, which was some type of relative of a Kookibura, and so ventured out during the evening to observe it by a pond.

Upon their return to the royal court, they were met with a singular demand by Sadako: Where are your poems?
Writing, sending, and reciting poems was extremely important in Heian society. One sent them to lovers, friends, and relatives, and memorized the most popular ones for recitation contests at the royal court. When one had a sorrowful, spiritual or beautiful experience in nature, one wrote a standard three line poem to express the emotions felt. However, Sei and her cohorts failed to do this, after having told EVERYONE at court that they were specifically going to see this lovely bird with a haunting cry in the evening by a lake. What could inspire poetry if not that scene?
The ladies all sit and immediately try to recapture the moment, but alas, it’s too late. No one writes a poem of which she can be proud, or which she wishes to share with all of the court. They all feel deep humiliation and shame.

When your friends tell of you their experiences, sights, or feelings, indignantly demand a poem. And how did that NOT inspire you to write a three line poem with the standard conceits?, you’ll ask incredulously. Show me the poems!


Filed under Michinaga, Pillow Book, poetry, Sadako

An Ideal Heian Gentlemen, Part I

It is sometimes said that “sensitive men” are fashionable in these days in Western society. However, we Westerners are far behind the times, as ridiculously sensitive men were all the rage 1,000 years ago in Heian – era Japan.
Men were not supposed to hide their emotions – no. The ideal gentleman was emotional and sensitive to the beauty and pathos of life, and thus would be likely to weep gently at the sight of a magnificent sunset, a pond in the moonlight, or the thought of someone else’s loneliness.

The author of the world’s first novel (The Tale of Genji), Murasaki Shikibu, describes Michinaga himself as having weeped tears of joy at the sight of the spendidly dressed Emperor arriving to a festival.
Michinaga is the man to imitate. Go ahead. Weep softly with immeasurable joy when you hear your favorite band is coming to town. Let a single tear fall gently down your cheek at the thought of the next episode of “Lost.” Practice saying to others, with moist eyes, “I’m not really crying. I’m simply attuned to the sadness and beauty of life.”

You’re not a wimp. You’re a perfect Heian gentleman.

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Filed under gentle weeping, gentlemen, Michinaga

How to Be a Winner Picker

It frequently happens that social conversations turn to topics which everyone can comment upon, such as sport. Some of us, however, actually know nothing of professional football or basketball and thus have nothing to say. How dreadful! Should a similar occasion arise when others discuss their favorite political figures of Heian Japan, the Fujiwaras, tell them your favorite is Michinaga. Being a fan of Michinaga is like being a modern day Yankees fan. It’s a safe bet.

But won’t others thus mock such a choice, calling you a winner picker? Maybe. But like being a Yankees fan, (“What’s wrong with a few national championships? I like teams that don’t suck!”) being a fan of Michinaga no Fujiwara is easy to defend. “I really admire the way he consolidated imperial power through bridal politics,” you’ll say, easily rebuffing your opponents’ skepticism. “After all, who could force his own nephews Korechika and Takaiye into exile quite like Michinaga? He held complete control over the imperial court of Heian Kyo. ” They’ll have nothing to say in reply. Pick the obvious winner. Michinaga.

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Filed under embarrassment, Michinaga, politics, sport